New research offers a “win-win-win” scenario for conservation, food safety and crop production. In a recent paper published in Ecological Applications, an international collaboration that includes UC Davis researchers found the risk of birds contaminating crops with E. Coli and Salmonella is very low.

There is slightly more risk of Campylobacter being found in bird feces on crop fields. But the researchers also identify distinctions among different types of birds and their preferred habitats.

For example, the analysis showed insect-eating birds are “less likely to deposit foodborne pathogens on crops,” while large groups of starlings that forage near cattle are more of a risk. 

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“Farmers are increasingly concerned that birds may be spreading foodborne diseases to their crops,” Daniel Karp, a study author and UC Davis professor, said in a statement. “Yet not all bird species are equally risky.” What’s more, the researchers say maintaining natural habitat near crop fields may benefit the birds that pose less risk.

Past efforts to reduce pathogen risk by removing natural bird habitat alongside fields might inadvertently favor the species that are more likely to deposit pathogens on crops. Supporting habitat for the low-risk birds that eat crop pests, for example with nest boxes, benefits the birds, the farmers and consumers.

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